Before Anyone Can See

There is a stillness in the early evening air, a tender bite through the damp coolness as it descends in shadow across each building on my block. Brick and mortar and tiny blue rooms inside of empty people.

Hearts shriveled and shaking and alone. Funny how loneliness can feel. How a void can feel so full, how the longing fills the nothingness and takes your shape.

There is a small white dog looking out of his window across the street. I am looking out my window, too. I look at him as his little wiry head follows the bounce of a squirrel across the pavement. Wild geese cry overhead, out of sight, and I wonder how the wonder of some things, some sounds, some movements, can stay so fresh and clear for season after season.

To never get old. To never let up. To never say never even when you stopped believing long ago. There is a young girl in her upstairs bathroom studying the lines on her face. Washing small hairs down the drain. Trying to brush the tears and the stains away before he sees her. Before anyone can see.

Does life see itself in itself? Are there notions of familiarity even in creatures who have no words at all, and no dreams?

There is  a way the fading indifferent light holds on to something curling inside of you which is closing, as is its time, as is its season.

And this, too, is an ending that you hold in your palm.

And this too, a beginning.

And once more the night slides over as the moon sails up into the midnight black. The piercing of the stars like ice cold twinkle lights.

Remember snow globes? How you were just a child and marveled as you shook and shook the glittered underworld scene.

Kissed a plastic girl who was not breathing. Cursed a severed sky, stone white.

Until the castle disappeared.

Until the looking glass went blind.

Everything Could Be Different

I never really spoke that much in grade school. I was never a storyteller, unless I was lying about something generally insignificant and then again when I had to confess my minor transgression to an old obese white man, wearing a black shirt with a tiny white square in the center of his neck, while we were both tightly suffocating in the oppressive heat of a small dark wooden box. I was too young then to make the connection between this small wooden box and a casket but in hindsight it’s pretty glaring, the nailing together of sin with eternal damnation.

I remember there were velvet drapes in there, a good bit of thick blood-red material hanging all around and the smell of incense which I wanted to be soothing but was more like the invocation of the sensation of the masking of a trembling kind of trepidation. The seedy scent of humanity: sweat, gingivitis, hair, teeth, fingernails.

Which is all simply to say that I was quiet when set out against the outside world. My mother would have said I was shy, in a way which more than suggested I should apologize for existing inside my own silence, but really I was just discerning as a scrawny timid kid who was taught that the universe (and maybe Jesus, but I never could quite get a handle on that) was trying to harm me at every turn. But in my journals I would tell stories through words, poetry, whatever. I guess it’s just inside you when you are born. A natural obsession with the way language works and how you can play with it. It all starts out as play pretty much.

All across the budding trees, the rain is coming down steady and heavy, creating a meditative atmosphere in my writing room. I have so many books that when I want to find any particular one I am just as likely to find it on a proper shelf as I am to find it cob-webbed and teetering in a corner stack of novels which are propping up a potted plant or a tiny lamp, or nothing at all – just teetering and helping the dust to settle.

I was looking for a certain collection of poetry for a friend the other day, one I have yet to read myself. I have had the thing for years but I am absolutely terrified to read it. I know it will be so cripplingly beautiful it will kill me. Can you imagine that? Afraid to read a thing for fear of how it will wreck my entire being, change it, cut it open and crush it until I can’t be put back together the same way ever again.

Writing is a wicked trick and impossible to unhook from your own veins once it’s been dug in. It all starts out as just messing around. You tell things on a slant and the slant becomes a distortion which feels so delicious and so right even though it’s wrong until it becomes a story which becomes an alternate world where it can become the truth. Even if only for a while, everything can be different. Even you.

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Photo by Emma Simpson

Alone In Here Anyway

What would you say is the worst of it?

The way I laugh when you mention the sins of my past or my insatiable passion for the things you refuse to understand?

When I was young, I used to lie in bed in my thin pink nightgown, listening to the night creatures make their crickety nocturnal sounds until the last of the summer sun’s light disappeared into complete purple glittering darkness. As the sweet soft air caressed my tiny body, I imagined the angels came down and opened up my ribs like opening the golden doors of a small cage which was a house, a stained glass temple reflecting every color of the rainbow, constructed in the flesh of all creatures who fall to this earth against their will.

A fire was placed inside of me. The ivory gates were closed and locked around its precious reddened flame. And even after all these years and decades I have spent attempting to make a life I swear is mine and mine alone, that other-worldly flame sparks and courses all through my veins. I go blind in the daylight if I just close my eyes and believe. I glow like the stars all through the night when everyone else is fast asleep.

When you look at me, what is the deadness you feel and why? I can see the way your eyes shut down as mine flicker open, hungry, eager, pleading. Where has your light gone? The light which slips out the back door of your spirit. Why does it recoil?

This world can be so bitterly cold and unfeeling and what frightens me more than the bony fingers of Death itself is a life devoid of feeling, so I place my hands on your chest anyway. When you slip the straps of my dress down my shoulders, I cover your mouth with my mouth anyway. When you offer me what is left of your body and your strength, I claw my nails down your back anyway.

Perhaps what I think is love is really just a prayer tenderly, secretly spoken by the child who was an angel who never knew anything other than to place her trust in mysterious things. An attempt, doomed maybe, but true nonetheless, at soul to soul resuscitation.

Is it your fear of burning which keeps you close but not close enough to taste the risk of ruin by the viciousness of a love as thick as mine? Sometimes I forget that you can’t see the things I see. Sometimes I pretend I don’t remember. That you can’t fathom the terrible beauty of this fire coaxed to life inside of me. I guess I could say that maybe that’s the worst of it.

 

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Photo by Kristina Stepanidenko

 

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What They Never Tell You Is

The sweet soft air of springtime slides in through my open bedroom window and I sit up to inhale a deep drag of it, hoping secretly it will come inside my body and heal it. All my bad decisions. All the ways I wanted nothing but to obliterate myself entirely. The little tiny kills spread out across a day, an evening which picks at your skin like pock marks on the face, shameful, obvious, but even that doesn’t stop you from the gouging.

Maybe I wanted help as much as I wanted to be left the fuck alone. The little tiny kills that happen and happen and happen and accumulate over a lifetime, only the life is still happening while the time, well, the time is anybody’s guess, except to say it’s moving on with or without you.

Rising from my bed and taking a few steps into the light of morning, I am surrounded by rays of silent sunshine and the glowing flecks of dust which hang suspended in the air like pollen hovering, waiting, static impregnation, it feels alien to be among this brightness. I am remembering what it is to want this. For so long the darkness was the only thing I could trust.

I do not reach for the cigarette which burns in the front of my mind. I swallow gulps of the late March breeze, and water. Lots and lots of water these days. I raise my hand to touch my face, to reach for the drink, to reach for the self-loathing I know and love so much, and stop. Beyond the sickness and the shaking, beyond the bones in the river by the houses lining the bend in the street, there is something heading toward me and I want to welcome it in.

There is something already inside. What they never tell you about is the quiet. They only tell you about the noise, which is easier to deal with because noise is something which has to be dealt with. But the quiet, well, the quiet, it just stays as long as you can stand it. And once it’s got you, you and it are all there is.

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Photo by Darius Marshall

You Push and You Pull

I know you want me to come closer to you and I know I’m not going to. Say what you like. Strum those thick beautiful fingers along the wood like you’re keeping time with my pulse even though we both know you have all the time in the world for these games and I’ve just about run out.

You want to play? Ok. I’ll play. I’ll pour myself another and I will tell you everything you want to hear, which is something other than telling you everything you want to know. But it doesn’t matter to you either way because the one thing you need is the one thing I cannot give you because it doesn’t exist. We do not exist anywhere but in your mind.

And, oh, that murky uncertain mind of yours, always running, always ticking like a clock or a bomb or one of those cheap kitchen timers your mom used to set for your hard boiled eggs as a kid. Aprons and cigarettes and red and white checkered tablecloths. Someone to take care of you. Someone always to take care of you. That has been the craving all along but you never could name it. You never could see past your own needs to get to the heart of a tender thing.

We blow smoke into the empty air of the small kitchen in my apartment and stare at the peeling daffodil-covered wallpaper. I remember that disturbing piece by Gilman I read in college, The Yellow Wallpaper. The poor chick went completely insane under the treatment they swore would heal her entirely. They tried so hard to paint her as a feminist but that shit got complicated as it often does when you try to make a thing or a person into something bigger than they are capable of being, or ever becoming.

Proximity to power is not the same as power. Walking in step with something strong is not the same as being strong yourself.

You think I want closure with you, that’s why you attempt to withhold it. You think I need you to agree with my decision to end things but I don’t. Taking a deep swallow of the whiskey you love so much it hurts, you take my hand and look straight into my blue gray eyes, and say the bit you swore you never would.

Baby, I can’t change the past but I would give anything to do it over differently if I could. She was nothing but a meaningless kiss in crowded house on a drunken night I barely remember.

And as the silly words tumble out of your ridiculous mouth, I can feel my own indifference slide smooth as liquor through my slim blue veins. The way you think it matters flickers into a blaze against the way it doesn’t matter at all. In your eyes I can see us both burning all the way to the ground. I don’t want your sadness and I don’t need your story any more or less than I want you sitting here across from me in this creaky yellow stained room above this snuffed out city street which might be dirty and dark but it leads to something better. I’m sure of that now.

 

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Photo by Davide Pietralunga

As Long As I’m Here

At the end of the day… don’t you love when someone says something like this? At the end of the day, it is what it is. Nuggets of wisdom lost to the wind if only we could have learned faster or thought harder about the things we had when they were right in front of us.

It’s impossible to tell you just how very many people have come into my life all frantic with admiration and accolades only to eventually – sometimes… actually, often times – completely disappear. I mean one day here, gone the next type deal. And I used to think to myself, what did I do wrong, you know like was I offensive in some kind of way? Disappointing? Rude? Thoughtless, careless, mean?

But now I see the truth and the truth, harsh as it may sound when I say it, which I’m about to do, is that these people conjure up their entire relationship with me in their minds and it was always going to end the way it does no matter what I would have done or not done. I was some kind of movie set or stage or painted backdrop they came and acted their shit out on or in front of for whatever reason until they finally exhausted their little precious selves and fell off to the side like a dried up moth never to return. Possibly even wondering what it was they ever liked about me in the first place. But I will never know, because gone they are and gone they stay.

Isn’t this a rather disconcerting way to live? The ghosting and the hyper-charged entanglements that preceed the eventual and inevitable neglect? No wonder we don’t trust each other. No wonder we are wracked with jitters and anxiety and fear. We do it all to ourselves. We do it all to each other as if it’s normal course of the business of life. It’s as inevitable as it is ridiculous.

There are the few though, the very very few, who stick it out with you. Who actually entrench themselves into you and your world because they want to be in it. With you. You call them out on their stuff, they call you out on yours. And you wrangle through the laughter and the muck until you come out on the other side, maybe dirtier, maybe cleaner or brighter, or not, but you come through and you move on together.

I can count on very few fingers who these people are in my life. They are not perfect and neither am I and maybe we know that about each other and about ourselves and that’s why we can tolerate and celebrate the sticking around. Because we can bear to lose our footing but we can’t bear to lose that kind of convoluted, complicated, hilarious, miraculous, generous, messy, beautiful devotion.

 

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Photo by Rich Lloyd Judd

Blood and Wings and Blood

I should have had my period by now but my cycles are all fucked up since I hit my forties. You know it will happen eventually, you just don’t ever think it will happen to you. Like, now.  There was always something about the eventual onset of menopause that was in the future, and a distant future at that.

You don’t want to talk about this? Too bloody? Too gross but not in the fun way like those shit slasher movies you watch with all the gore and gratuitous violence?

It’s funny to me. The way that people are. Funny-tragic, I mean. The way they have convinced you that women are disposable and you believed it and moved on and you don’t think that’s a kind of cruelty. You think that’s just the way it is. I can’t blame you. I thought so, too. Parts of me still do and it seems I keep discovering new ones as the years go by. It’s layered into us. It’s almost eerily clever in its own grotesque way.

Did you know that if you cut open a cocoon at any point during its existence you will most likely just see a gooey mess? You will not ever see a half-caterpillar-half-butterfly because apparently it doesn’t happen like that. The butterfly sort of happens all at once suddenly out of the sticky glob of nothing recognizable as anything.

And if I remember correctly, the tiny creature thing just kind of finally drops out one day, also suddenly, from the chrysalis, wings completely gummed together by the soggy muck is was soaked within for however many days. Eight to twelve days.

It is a rather raw and violent way to exit one form of life and enter a new one. Later on we watch in delight as the butterfly flutters through a garden and think, How sweet, delicate, beautiful. Some butterflies make it and some don’t. Some can’t get their wings to open and so they fall to their sad little deaths. Some can only manage one wing, which is not enough.

I’m not trying to make this some kind of metaphor for struggle or some lesson about how precious and slim your life is, or mine for that matter. I’m not trying to say anything other than birth, death, life, are all parts of a unified cycle, and each stage contains within it its own kind of ugliness, stickiness, and violence. And that our collective denial of the brutality of these cycles, our denial of the excruciating pain of the destruction that is giving birth, or the crushing pain a woman must endure month after month within her own naturally pain-wracked body, is to deny, too, the magnificent awe the strength of a woman should inspire.

All of this has been said before. This is not a new ask, to be acknowledged, to be respected, to be seen for all that a woman actually is instead of for what she has been told to be: pretty, happy, quiet, obedient, clean. Perhaps each woman has to say these things for herself at some point in her life, though. In order to make it real in her own way. Part of it is to finally acknowledge, respect, and see herself. We spend our whole lives holding back or denying a kind of pain which is hard to explain because it is so intimate, so deeply woven in that we are some how too close to see it.

Some butterflies, of course, do make it. They drop and they fly and in one ecstatic movement they are off on their own adventures. And they come to know the sunshine and the soft peach light of summer sunset falling upon the colorful petals. And the cold hard rain and the thrashing storms and the driving winds, too.

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Photo by Cassidy Dickens

 

Insemination

The pagans believe springtime is the season during which their god impregnated their goddess, thus producing an earth fertile enough to birth all of the fragrant flowers and trees, as well as the little creatures who feed upon them. Such abundance is sweet to imagine, even if at the moment believing in it feels terribly fragile, perhaps even dangerous.

We want to be held and we want to be set free. We want to be so close to each other we can’t tell who is the beginning and who is the end, yet all the while we can’t extinguish the gnawing need inside that wants to run through the streets and the fields and the galaxy all alone.

Sometimes when he touches me, I recoil like one of those tiny snails curling back into her pearly shell. I don’t know why this happens, I can only tell you it happens the way when a doctor knocks one of those little hammers against a certain spot on your knee, your leg nearly kicks him in the balls reflexively. I don’t want to kick my boyfriend in the balls but I suppose a part of me that I don’t quite have a handle on wants very much not to be touched.

One afternoon not long ago, I was standing at the stove staring out across the back garden, dead as it was and covered in the last of the dirty winter-into-early-springtime snow. The steam from the tea kettle was fogging up the bottom portion of the glass windowpane, blurring my vision and my thoughts into a kind of daydream about nothing in particular. There we were on a beach as the summer sun was setting across the electric pink horizon of my mind. The warmth surrounding us so intimately, as if the heat of every molecule of the last of the day’s sunshine was sliding and vibrating beneath the tan of our skin.

I’m jolted free of this daydream by his hands on my hips from behind, and suddenly I’m back at the stove in the kitchen in my socks and sweatshirt. I jerk away. It’s not that his touch is wrong it’s that it’s an intrusion. The violation feels real even though it shouldn’t because he’s the one I have invited in. He’s the one I thought I wanted inside and around me all the time.

He senses my disturbed reaction and moves away, apologizing as I try to tell him it’s not him it’s me, even though I know it’s actually probably all of them. All of the others who moved in much too close much too soon. The ones who come into your life and damage you sort of chip away at your sense of boundaries, your sense of movement.

I never could quite figure out if I ever knew when what I wanted became less important than what they wanted. Why I should shrink and they should grow bigger and thicker and harder until they were as big and thick and hard as they felt like being and in response I forced my fear to become a thing I thought I could conquer by acting like I wasn’t afraid. Like I wanted it even. Like it was all my idea – my body, my decision. If the world they created couldn’t be escaped, I would tell myself a different kind of story to try to make inhabiting it less upsetting.

Ever since I was small, they told me stories about men who shot their semen into women and they called them gods and goddesses and made it so that the act of impregnating was all tied to the seasons, the earth, the very existence of the world depended on the woman wanting to bear the heavy awful weight of touch rather than destroy it.

Sometimes when he touches me it’s like a scream. Like the parts of me that should go soft instead grow as hard and thick as the walls I wish would crumble to the ground.

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Photo by David Todd McCarty

Trash Novel

Do you wait until you have collected all of your material before you write it down or do you just start writing and see what happens? I’ve tried it both ways and can’t really say which is better or even easier, but who wants it to come easy anyway?

Difficult doesn’t bother me, it’s boredom that makes me sick. I’d rather back myself into an impossible corner and try to puzzle my way out of it just for kicks instead of sitting around waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I like a challenge which is maybe why I like him. The trouble with that is that maybe it’s the only reason I like him and he’s barely got anything to do with it outright. He has a girl all his own from the other side of this town which offers so little and promises even less. She makes him feel either insane or blue depending on how her hormones are running on any given day of the week, but at least on the weekends he can drown her out by getting drunk on the beach among a bunch of their airbrushed airhead friends.

With the sun beaming down on her brown skin, playing upon her golden hair and bouncy full breasts, he can forget for a while that he isn’t in love and it doesn’t matter in any case. He sips his rum and soda as the water is sparkling like diamonds, gulls swooping down between the waves. All he wants is the sand and the surf all around him as often as possible. Not rings, not a wife, not kids, not responsibilities of any kind no matter how hard she tries to convince him otherwise.

There are some people who pretend so well that they convince themselves the world they are living in is not of their own making but rather it has been bestowed upon them by some other worldly being. The hand of a God, be it vengeful or benevolent, which has nothing at all to do with them. Fate is fate, right is wrong is wrong is right, and it’s all anybody’s guess until it’s all over for good, as it will be no matter who’s in charge to begin with.

Such is my obsession with intervening where I do not belong. I want the man I cannot have because I need to prove I can have him because then we will know exactly who is in charge around here and it will be me, come what may. Sometimes I wait and gather my material first. Approach him all the while knowing what buttons to push and when to hang back and let him push the buttons himself. Sometimes I just show up, buy him drinks and see what happens, which is usually my car or his truck or a hotel room on the side of the highway. Seedy? Well, sure. But I never said I was proud of anything, only that I was in control.

There’s a difference, subtle as it may be.

When we kiss in the darkness, it’s like fireworks exploding all across a midnight sky. Even in the dead of night I can feel the warmth of the beach on his smooth tight skin. What is mine and what isn’t somehow blurs between us and we are no longer a part of any of this earthly game. We twist and writhe and play high up above on the stars, spinning and spinning into the infinite beyond. There are no boundaries, no one to blame, only the sweetness of ecstatic sin. The heady thrill of a chase I secretly hope will never end.

I never ask him how he feels about what he does with me behind her back. She’s nothing to me except a part of the reason he gets me so high. But even though I don’t ask, he tells me anyway. We pull up the crisp white sheets and smoke the cigarettes the hotel forbids. Tracing his finger along the tattoo on my left shoulder, he tells me he can’t help it. He doesn’t mean to hurt anybody but the story seems to be writing itself.

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Photo by Dainis Graveris

Blister

All the things we dare not say swirl around in our stomachs like a thousand butterflies beating their slim shaky wings. I press my lips to the glass just to feel the cold against the warmth of my tongue. I touch a hand to my cheek just to feel like maybe I’m not alone.

You pick me up in your sleek black car and we wind our way through the back country roads, all dotted with deep red farmhouses, endless fields, silos, horses, and sprawling mansions with those heavy wrought iron gates at the end of their miles and miles of driveway. One of the more obnoxious gates is adorned with two giant fierce looking metal eagle statues on either side, all angry eyes and talons clenched around what appear to be two blank blue globes. I guess if you are going to have a pair of mean gigantic raptors at your front entrance, they may as well be screaming.

The afternoon light is fading into a deep orange glow, the way it can only in between seasons. Somewhere suspended between a blood red winter and a pale yellow spring, the light blends itself into a peachy mist and begs us to hang on just a little longer.

As we walk along the tight downtown street, I notice all the people crowded inside the Irish pub and my insides buckle and cringe. Even from outside looking in, I can hear their fevered breathing, see the diseased air hovering over their soggy burgers and fries.

It’s all too much too soon and too little too late and I guess deep down I knew it would be but seeing it happening in real time is enough to blow your mind. How easily we forget, or try to. How desperately we cling to the hope of going back to whatever it was we thought we loved so much but mostly took for granted until they took it all away.

 

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Photo by Kyle Mills